Gambling Disorders 360°

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Bridging the Gap Between Research and Clinicians on Treatment Options

by: NCRG Staff | Aug 4, 2011

How do clinicians determine an appropriate treatment plan for clients with gambling problems? The current dearth of research on treatment outcomes and the lack of a treatment standard make this a challenge for treatment providers. However, Dr. Jon Grant argues that new research will bridge the gap, allowing clinicians to select the most effective treatment options based on cognitive, neuroimaging and genetic data. Dr. Grant, professor of psychiatry at the University of Minnesota and principal investigator of the NCRG Center of Excellence in Gambling Research at the University of Minnesota, delivered a keynote address on this topic at the 8th Annual Midwest Conference on Problem Gambling and Substance Abuse on July 20 in Kansas City, Mo.

In his address, Dr. Grant focused on a few treatment options that researchers are studying that might be applicable for treatment providers as they assess the best options for their patients. First, researchers are looking at various medications that might best help those with gambling disorders who are driven by cravings and urges to gamble. Studies have shown that Naltrexone, a drug approved for treatment of alcoholism, can help remove the desire to gamble by reducing cravings. Genetic research indicates that the best responders to Naltrexone are individuals with a family history of alcohol use disorders. One clinical study cited by Dr. Grant found that urges were reduced by 40 percent of this population but not fully eliminated. It is apparent, he observed, that by themselves such drugs are not totally effective and that an approach that also includes a behavioral treatment such as cognitive-behavioral therapy is vital.

Dr. Grant mentioned another alternative approach that researchers are beginning to investigate called “imaginal exposure.” Borrowed from the scientific literature on obsessive-compulsive disorder, the objective is to desensitize the individual to gambling cues by exposing the person repeatedly to typical symptoms that triggers their problem gambling behavior. Dr. Grant cited a study in which the combination of Motivational Interviewing therapy and imaginal exposure helped participants abstain from gambling after two years.

Dr. Grant’s talk was one of the various keynote addresses at the Midwest Conference on Problem Gambling and Substance Abuse. Christine Reilly, senior research director for the NCRG, also spoke about college gambling statistics and the NCRG’s newest online resource, CollegeGambling.org. To view her entire presentation, click here. To see the other various keynote addresses, you can visit http://www.888betsoff.org/links/midwest_conference.shtm .

Questions or comments about the NCRG’s many summer activities? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below! Also make sure to check out our upcoming blog posts on the NCRG Road Tour in Boston, Mass.

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